As the dark days of winter begin to lift into spring, the Opera House and Erkel Theatre have a fine programme of events crowned by two offerings from Tchaikovsky, “The Queen of Spades” opera and “Anna Karenina” ballet, as well as the return of the unmissable and sensational “Otello” and the première of Wagner’s mystical and magical “Siegfried”.
“The Queen of Spades”
Tchaikovsky with “The Queen of Spades” created an Arctic tornado of a production, a mysterious thriller crammed with everything dark, passionate and tragic. This opera reflects the composer at his darkest and best; after the success of “Eugene Onegin”, he once again sought inspiration in Pushkin and his elaborate ghost story.
Set during the reign of Catherine the Great, it demands tortured, tormented intensity from the cast and the orchestra and also from the audience. Nothing is held back musically with the intensity of the score speaking volumes of power, so we feel Tchaikovsky’s tragedy with every fibre of our souls.
While Verdi’s “Otello” throws you into the arena of tragedy with full-blooded Italian passion, Tchaikovsky hurls you into the Colosseum and drags you mercilessly through the frozen wilderness. The setting and costumes are as elaborate as the plot and we can expect nothing short of greatness from the director, Vadim Milkov.
Hermann, our tortured protagonist, performed by Kristian Benedikt and Mikhail Gubsky, is an obsessive by nature. He becomes infatuated with beautiful yet out of reach Liza (Szilvia Rálik and Gyöngyi Lukács).
The character of Hermann demands so much from its leading performer; it is a male equivalent of Lucia from “Lucia di Lammermoor”. Vocal range aside, this is a character who needs to be convincing in terms of obsession and borderline insanity. Hermann is intent on solving the hidden mystery within the card games, believing he can unlock the secret the Queen of Spades herself held to her chest years before. Liza is swept away, like a rag doll, merely a victim in Hermann’s destructive path.
Hermann’s own confession that life is nothing but a game of cards betrays the carelessness he attaches to his own existence and all those around him. Tormented and possessed by an addictive personality, Hermann then turns towards the card games he has resisted until now. His obsession will stop at nothing, only death will halt it.
Tchaikovsky also features in the ballet world this month with the tragic and elegantly beautiful “Anna Karenina”. Choreographed by Lilla Pártay and based on the novel by Tolstoy, the score is intense and imposing with injections of modern music brilliantly interspersed by Zoltán Rácz. Alexandra Kozmér, Aliya Tankypayeva and Aleszja Popova share the title role of the lovely yet fated Anna.
“Anna Karenina” with its classic Russian tragedy and love triangle is psychologically and emotionally demanding, but, in much the same vein as “The Queen of Spades”, Tchaikovsky’s use of a story inspired by a classic author creates a production that is strong on plotline.
There are also acres of pain and angst and this torment is clear throughout; from the set design, the expressive intensity of the dancers and the expertly created choreography right up until the tragic finale.
“Otello” is a magnificently staged production lifted from the pages of Shakespeare and transformed into an opera every bit as tense and atmospheric. Verdi’s orchestral score speaks of murderous hatred and paranoia, foreboding tragedy and deep sadness.
The creative and immense set – all sharp angles with towering cubes and paranoid outstretched arms – is one of the darkest and most dramatic you are likely to see on a theatre stage. All the more impressive as Stefano Poda takes on the roles director, set designer, costume designer and lighting designer.
He edits his work like a true master of tragedy, skilfully manipulating the stage into an ever-changing flux of imposing cubes, turning the lighting states to dramatic arterial reds to heighten the tension.
Rafel Rojas and Kristian Benedikt play the tortured Venetian Moor, with supreme sopranos Andrea Rost and Gabriella Létay Kiss alternating as the self-sacrificing, vulnerable and horribly wronged Desdemona.
In ”Otello” the power of the tragedy centres on the leading trio of performers; Otello, Desdemona and Iago. Iago (Alexandru Agache/Michele Kalmandy) is the vengeful puppeteer. He is the catalyst for the tragic downfall and is evil personified, jealous and devilish, expressed through the richly spun baritone notes that flow like seductive silk.
“Das Rheingold”, “Die Walküre”, “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” are the four segments of the wonderful gleaming whole of the epic “Ring Cycle”. After the wondrous “Die Walküre” in November, the long-awaited March première of “Siegfried” directed by Géza M. Tóth promises to match this greatness.
The beauty of Wagner is the sheer sense of the sublime; the feeling you have been witness to something awe-inspiring, wonderful yet strangely inexplicable. Leitmotifs flow through the orchestral score, as you are led on a journey into the realms of fantasy.
Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”, or “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, is set within a medieval legend and centres upon a mythical ring of power, and the struggle of people to possess it. It explores themes of love and earthly power, longing and loss, and took Wagner 25 years to finish.
“Siegfried” in much the same fashion as “Die Walküre” places great demands on the audience, not least because of its epic running time, but the score is sensational as the music ebbs and flows like a waterfall. Surrender to this extraordinary power and let the music be your guide through an ever-changing landscape of mysterious beauty.
“The Queen of Spades”
Until 9 March
Until 18 March
Until 1 April
Until 2 April
Opera House, District VI
Andrássy út 22
Erkel Theatre, District VIII
II János Pál pápa tér 30
Tickets and information: www.opera.hu/programme
(There are alternate casts for each production, so check the website for details)